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Aide to Blair Says Presentation Of Iraq Intelligence Mishandled

By Warren Hoge

the New York Times -- LONDON

A top aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote to the head of Britain’s intelligence service earlier this spring conceding that the government’s presentation of a report on Iraqi arms was mishandled and promising that “far greater care” would be taken with files in the future so as not to discredit the spy agency’s work, a British newspaper said Sunday.

The government admission that Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, had written a letter of explanation to Sir Richard Dearlove, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, came as the use of intelligence findings to muster support for the war on Iraq has increasingly come under questioning.

The apologetic letter was reported on Sunday by The Sunday Telegraph and confirmed by a Downing Street spokesman. He said that Campbell had told intelligence chiefs that procedures for handling information would be tightened and that “far greater care would be taken in dealing with anything that might impact on their reputation or their work.”

The report, “Iraq: Its Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation,” was made public in February as Blair tried to persuade the dubious British public of the need to forcefully disarm Saddam Hussein.

It is now referred to in the British news media as the “dodgy dossier” because of evidence that part of it was downloaded from the Internet -- complete with typographical errors -- from an American student’s thesis that relied on 12-year-old public information.

An earlier report, published in September, is now under review by two parliamentary committees because of doubts raised about its central claim: that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons were in such a state of readiness that they could be launched within 45 minutes.

The controversy over that claim obliged Blair to reassure Parliament on Wednesday that his government had not embellished spy reports to exaggerate the threat of unconventional weapons and justify the war.